CHISINAU, Moldova (AP) — Political tensions soared in Moldova Thursday as thousands rallied against plans by the outgoing pro-Russian president to strip his pro-Western successor of a key power.
Protests were held outside the former Soviet republic’s parliament building in central Chisinau as lawmakers held a heated debate on the disputed change, which would take control over the powerful state security from the hands of the president.
A vote on the proposed amendments is expected later on Thursday. Scuffles erupted at one point between pro-government and the opposition lawmakers after the Socialist-dominated majority passed the next year’s budget without a debate.
The current, pro-Russian government controls 51 of 101 seats in the parliament, reflecting political divisions between the heavily opposed camps in one of the poorest nations in Europe. Sandwiched between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova also has been a politically strategic area for both the West and Russia since gaining independence after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
President-elect Maia Sandu, a pro-EU reformist who last month decisively defeated her Socialist opponent Igor Dodon in a runoff election, has promised to implement reform and move forward planned integration into the EU.
Dodon had maintained close ties with Russia that date back to the Soviet era, and was an election favorite of Russia’s current President Vladimir Putin. His bid to strip Sandu of state security control is seen as an attempt to maintain influence despite the election loss.
Addressing supporters at Thursday’s gathering, Sandu called for an early parliamentary election to be held in order to unseat the current administration which she called corrupt.
“We have gathered here today to defend our democracy, the right to have a country free of corruption, without poverty, a country where justice would prevail,” Sandu said. “People are dying in hospitals and are running out of medicine, people have no food to eat and the parliamentary majority deals with diminishing presidential powers.”
Moldova’s already weak economy has further suffered in the new coronavirus pandemic. So far, the nation of 3.5 million people has tallied more than 100,000 virus cases and over 2,000 deaths.
In 2014, while it was run by a pro-European coalition, Moldova signed a deal on closer political and economic ties with the EU, now a bloc of 27 nations. However, Brussels has since been increasingly critical of Moldova’s progress on reforms.